Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.Ch. 1. Ruth’s Devotion: She Leaves Her Home and Follows Naomi to Judah
1. in the days when the judges judged] The scene of the following story is thus placed in a distant age, which the writer pictures as a time of idyllic peace. Evidently the Book of Judges was known to him: the opening phrase is based upon the Dtc. editor’s theory set forth in Jdg 2:16 ff. For judges as a title see Introd. to Judges, p. xi.
a famine in the land] Targ. the land of Israel; more probably, the land in which Beth-lehem was situated. In ancient times it was only strong necessity which induced people to leave their homes, cf. 2 Kings 8:1; for a foreign country meant a foreign religion (Ruth 1:16), ‘How shall we sing Jehovah’s song in a strange land?’ See Amos 7:17, Hosea 9:3.
to sojourn] as a protected alien; cf. Jdg 17:7 n.
the country of Moab] lit. the field of M., similarly in Ruth 1:2; Ruth 1:6; Ruth 1:22, Ruth 2:6, Ruth 4:3; cf. the field of the Philistines 1 Samuel 27:5; 1 Samuel 27:7. Moab lay on the E. of the Jordan.
And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.2. Elimelech] i. e. God, or my God, is king; an ancient name in S. Palestine, occurring in the Amarna tablets, Ilu-milki 179, 36; 151, 45, though the form Milk-ilu is commoner; in Phoenician we find the corresponding Baal-milk=‘Baal is king,’ NSI., p. 347. Naomi on the surface appears to mean my sweetness, a name like Hephzi-bah (2 Kings 21:1) expressive of the mother’s joy in the new-born child; more likely it is an Aram. fem. form of Naamân, i.e. sweet, pleasant one, which gives a clear parallel to Marah = bitter one in Ruth 1:20; Wellhausen compares the Aram, names Oḥorân and Oḥarî, and the Arab. Nu‘mân and Nu‘mâ, Composition d. Hex.2, p. 358 n. The meaning of Mahlon and Chilion is not quite certain; if it is weakening and pining the names may have been chosen for their significance.
Ephrathites] Apparently Ephrath was the name of the district round Beth-lehem; cf. 1 Samuel 17:12, and see Genesis 35:19, Micah 5:2, Psalm 132:6.
And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.
And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.4. took them wives] The idiom is a late one, 2 Chronicles 11:21, Ezra 9:2; Ezra 9:12, Nehemiah 13:25 etc.; see Introd. p. xv. It is uncertain whether the names of the two wives have any bearing upon the parts which they play in the story. The Midrash Rabbah on this Book explains that Orpah was so called ‘because she turned her neck (‘oreph) on her mother in law’; possibly the name may=‘obstinacy’ (cf. stiffnecked, Exodus 32:9 etc.). Equally doubtful is the significance of Ruth; if the name is shortened from re‘uth, as it is written in Syriac, it will be the fem. of Re’u (Genesis 11:18 ff.), and may mean ‘friendship.’ We cannot, therefore, feel sure that the writer invented the names; he may have derived them from tradition.
And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.6. the Lord had visited his people] i. e. shewn a practical interest in; cf. Genesis 1:24 f E, Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:31 J; St Luke 1:68; Luke 7:16. Apparently the famine lasted ten years, Ruth 1:4. With giving them bread cf. Psalm 132:15.
Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.7. to return] Strictly only appropriate to Naomi, cf. Ruth 1:22 etc.; the author unconsciously reveals that he is writing from Palestine.
And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother's house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.8. to her mother’s house] although Ruth’s father was alive, Ruth 2:11; but the natural place for the female members of the family would be their mother’s tent or house, cf. Genesis 24:28; Genesis 24:67, Song of Solomon 3:4.
the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt] Cf. Psalm 18:25 ‘with the kind thou shewest thyself kind.’ Jehovah’s kindness was specially needed by the widow, for her condition was regarded as a reproach, Isaiah 4:1; Isaiah 54:4. The Book of the Covenant makes no provision for the widow (Exodus 22:22 is a later expansion); contrast the humanity of Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 27:19.
On her marriage the wife united herself to her husband’s religion; when she returned to her own people as a widow, she returned to their religion if they were foreigners, Ruth 1:15 f. Yet Jehovah’s influence is not entirely confined to the land of Israel; Naomi can commend her daughters in law to His protection when they were back in their own land.
The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.9. that ye may find rest] Cf. Ruth 3:1; Naomi had in her mind another home for them, i. e. a second marriage. The story is told with much naturalness and delicacy.
And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.
And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?11. have I yet sons … that they may be your husbands?] Alluding to the custom of levirate marriage, i. e. marriage with a brother in law (Lat. levir) after the husband’s death. The law on the subject is given in Deuteronomy 25:5-10; cf. St Matthew 22:24.
Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons;12. I am too old to have an husband] Naomi does not seriously contemplate any application of the custom alluded to: not only has she no surviving sons, but she never can have any.
If I should say etc.] Strictly, ‘that I should have said, I have hope’ (scil. of children). For the grammar cf. Genesis 40:15 (‘that they should have put me’), 1 Samuel 17:26 b.
Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.13. would ye therefore tarry till they were grown?] The narrative in Genesis 38. shews that the custom of levirate marriage was presupposed for the patriarchal age, but in a more primitive form than that of the modified law in Deuteronomy 25. According to Genesis 38. a son, though not of marriageable age, is bound by a positive requirement of the divine will to marry his brother’s widow, and she must remain a widow till he be grown up (ib. Ruth 1:11). The identity of the latter expression with that in the present verse seems to imply a reminiscence of the patriarchal narrative. But Naomi’s imaginary sons, the offspring of an impossible second marriage, would be half-brothers to Mahlon and Chilion; and there is nothing to shew that a levirate marriage was customary in such a case. Moreover, the object of this kind of marriage was to prevent the extinction of a family and the transference of the family property into the hands of strangers. As a matter of fact, however, Naomi is not thinking of this at all; she is not lamenting that her sons died without children, but that Ruth and Orpah have lost their husbands; her one anxiety is for the future welfare of her daughters in law. Hence, though her language is coloured by a reference to a well-known social institution, the reference is not exact, not intended to be taken literally.
It is noticeable that several words in this verse point to the post-exilic date of the writer: therefore is represented by a pure Aramaic word, Daniel 2:6; Daniel 2:9; Daniel 4:27 [Aram. 24]; tarry, again in Esther 9:1, Psalm 119:166 (‘hoped’); stay, lit. be restrained, shut up, only here in the O. T.; in Aramaic the pass. ptcp. is used of a wife tied to a husband and deserted and prohibited from marrying again, e.g. Talm. Jerus. Giṭṭin iv. 45c.
it grieveth me much for your sakes] lit. it is very bitter for me because of you; for this use of the prep. (min=because of) cf. Ecclesiastes 2:10, Psalm 31:11; Psalm 107:17 etc. Naomi’s sympathy goes out to the young widows, and she urges them to seek happiness elsewhere. The rendering in the marg. means, ‘You can go back and marry again; a worse lot is in store for me, I must remain a solitary.’ The rendering of the text is to be preferred as more in accordance with Naomi’s unselfish feeling.
And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.14. Orpah kissed her mother in law] and, it is implied, said good-bye.
And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.15. unto her people, and unto her god] i.e. Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, Numbers 21:29, 1 Kings 11:33. The ancient belief here receives its simplest expression: each land and people had its own Deity inseparably connected with it; outside lay the territory of another god. The Israelites, at any rate the popular religion in Israel, did not deny the divinity of the gods of the neighbouring lands, though for themselves Jehovah was the only God; cf. Jdg 11:24, 1 Samuel 26:19. So when Orpah goes back to Moab she goes back to her native god; similarly, when Ruth determines to make her home in Judah, she declares her intention of adopting the religion of her new country, Ruth 1:16. See Ruth 1:8 n.
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.17. will I die … be buried] According to ancient thought union in life meant union in death and in the grave; the members of a family had a common burying-place, Genesis 47:30; Genesis 49:29. In the underworld they lived together, as families and by nations; cf. the expression ‘he was gathered to his people,’ i.e. his fellow tribesmen, and see Ezekiel 32:17-32.
the Lord do so to me, and more also] Jehovah has already become the God of Ruth, and she uses the name of Israel’s God in a solemn imprecation, which occurs only here and in the books of Samuel and Kings. When heathen utter this oath, Elohim is used instead of Jehovah, and the verbs are plural, 1 Kings 19:2; 1 Kings 20:10. Lit. the phrase here runs ‘Jehovah do so to me, and more also—(only) death shall separate me from thee’; the substance of the oath is an assertion, not a negation; similarly 1 Samuel 14:44; 1 Samuel 20:13, 1 Kings 2:23 etc. in the Hebr.
When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.
So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?19. all the city was moved] was in a stir; so 1 Samuel 4:5, 1 Kings 1:45 (‘rang again’). Beth-lehem was a small place; Naomi’s return without her husband and sons could not escape notice; it aroused keen excitement, especially among the women—a graphic touch, true to life.
And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.20. Mara] The word has the Aramaic, not the Hebr. fem. ending.
the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me] Almost the same words as in Job 27:2. For Almighty the Heb. has Shaddai, perhaps an intentional archaism, see Genesis 49:25. Shaddaialone (not El Shaddai) occurs elsewhere only in poetry, e.g. Numbers 24:4; Numbers 24:16 and in Job; Naomi’s words in Ruth 1:21 fall into poetic rhythm, as the language of emotion usually does in the O. T.
I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?21. hath testified against me] i. e. hath marked His displeasure by the misfortunes which have overtaken me; for the idiom cf. Numbers 35:30, 1 Samuel 12:3. The Targ. characteristically moralizes: it was on account of Naomi’s sin (in migrating to a heathen country). The LXX. and Vulg., pronouncing the verb differently, render hath humbled me, but against the Hebr. construction. Underlying the words is the conviction, so deeply rooted in the Hebrew mind, that all must go well with the righteous and that misfortune was a sign of Jehovah’s wrath.
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.22. which returned out of the country of Moab] A superfluous expression after Naomi returned, and possibly an insertion from Ruth 2:6, unless we regard it as a standing description of Ruth.
in the beginning of barley harvest] i.e. in April. Barley was the first crop to be cut, Exodus 9:31 f., 2 Samuel 21:9.